This week, I met with a young couple for our third premarital counseling session. We are at the point in the counseling process where we are scripting out the ceremony itself. So we started talking about what the father of the bride will say when he gets to the end of the aisle. You know the drill: the minister says, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?” And the father, sometimes with tears in his eyes, responds, “Her mother and I.” He lifts the veil on his daughter, kisses her on the cheek, places her hands in the hands of her groom, and steps back. And in that moment, he probably prays that he has done everything he can to prepare his princess for this moment, not to mention for the lifetime that follows.
This image was on my mind this morning as I read 2 Corinthians 11:
I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
2 Corinthians 11:1-4 (NIV)
I’ve read these words from Paul quite a few times. But when they came up again this morning in my read-through-the-Bible plan, they felt more fresh–more urgent, than they had on previous readings. I think that’s because this is the first time I’ve read them as a senior pastor.
Paul planted the church in Corinth some time around AD 50-51 (you can read about it in Acts 18 ). He watched it grow and flourish. 2 Corinthians was written about five years later. Paul had heard reports that the church was being torn apart by false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:13) who were assaulting Paul’s character, sowing discord among the believers, and teaching false doctrine. They were questioning his integrity (2 Corinthians 1:15-17), his speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6), and his unwillingness to accept support from the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-9; 12:13). There were also some people who had not repented of their sinful behavior (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). (Thanks to gotquestions.org for this summary)
So in chapters 10-12, Paul gets about as personal as he ever gets as he pours out his heart for this “problem child” church. Sometimes he sounds like a jealous husband, defending himself to his wayward wife. Or at least, that’s how he’s sounded in previous readings.
But this morning, I read Paul’s words not as a jealous husband, but as a father who wants to present his daughter to her groom as a pure, spotless bride. Verse 2 is key: Paul is jealous with a ‘godly jealousy’ because he, the father of the bride, has promised the church to one husband–Christ.
This is the heart a pastor ought to have for the church he leads. Think about all the cliches of a protective father with a teenage daughter. Ask yourself, do you love your church in the same way? Here’s my gut check for how well I am loving my church. Understand, I’ve always been a little squeamish about pastors who talk possessively about “their” church. But then I go back to the “my daughter” analogy, and it makes sense. So bear with me as I talk about “my” church:
- Am I aware of my responsibility in preparing my church to meet her groom? Am I teaching her to discern right doctrine from false doctrine? In the same way a father helps his daughter learn how a man should treat a lady, a pastor needs to help his church discern truth from error.
- Am I as concerned for her reputation in the community as a father is concerned for his daughter’s reputation in the high school?
- Do I pay attention to the books people in my church are reading? Even (maybe even especially) the “Christian” or “inspirational” ones?
- Am I diligent about the quality of small group teaching in my church? Do I know what’s being studied in small groups the way the father of a teenaged daughter knows where she is on Friday night?
- Am I concerned for their physical safety? This relates to the church’s policies and procedures regarding background checks, supervision, transportation, and so forth.
Pastors, what else would you add to this list?
Lord Jesus, help me love my church, which is truly your church, with a godly jealousy. I pray for the day I can present her to you, her Groom, a spotless, pure, and perfect.